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June 2006

Marian McPartland and Shirley Horn
Piano Jazz: Marian McPartland and Shirley Horn
The Jazz Alliance

One of the joys of writing about jazz is that the participants—players, singers, arrangers, producers and fans alike—tend to be as remarkably knowledgeable and articulate as they are passionate. Few, though, can boast as long or erudite a career in jazz introspection as pianist Marian McPartland in her role as host of NPR’s Piano Jazz. With McPartland, as with her A-list guests, there’s no agenda, no marketing angle, no promotional push that need be addressed. It’s just plain-spoken, unfettered, spontaneous enthusiasm, as lovingly evidenced by this 1984 session with Shirley Horn.

Recorded three years before Horn emerged from self-imposed exile with her landmark Verve disc I Thought About You, this intimate hour captures the soft-spoken singer-pianist at her most relaxed and unguarded. Listening to Horn and McPartland construct a two-woman mutual admiration society is like eavesdropping as two schoolgirls giggle over their latest crushes. Only on Piano Jazz could you hear two such pros spend three solid minutes kibitzing about the challenging inventiveness of a key change from B-flat to A major, then ponder the rapport between musicians and audiences while bemoaning the rudeness of overly boisterous club patrons. Only on Piano Jazz could you hear McPartland and Horn blend seamlessly on “Billie’s Bounce,” laugh uproariously after playing conflicting bridges on Don Redman’s “Cherry,” then conclude with five minutes of brilliant impromptu blues. Like every disc in this series, it’s not an album but a priceless history lesson.

Originally published in June 2006
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